Swimming Home

Swimming Home,
by Deborah Levy, is an engaging novel whose sparse writing reads like a
play. Indeed, the author, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012,
is an accomplished playwright. The small number of characters make their
appearance two by two in each chapter much as actors upon a stage.

In a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Mark Haskell Smith explains:

like in a play, Levy doesn't gently introduce the characters or the
setting, instead she stomps on the gas, peels out, and sets everything
in motion in one of the first scenes as the cast discover Kitty
skinnydipping in the pool. At first they think she might be a bear, but
it soon becomes apparent that she is a young woman in her 20s...It is a
grand entrance and sets the tone for the sexual tension that
underscores the novel like a throbbing techno track
("Always Raining: On Deborah Levy's 'Swimming Home,'" December 11th, 2012)

novel is set at a villa on the French Riviera. There are five main
characters.  Kitty Finch, the  woman described in the above quote, has
recently suffered a mental breakdown. She is a seductress, stalking Joe
Jacobs, a poet of Polish-Jewish descent who is staying at villa with his
wife and daughter. Joe is also a tormented soul. When the Germans
invaded Poland during WWII, Joe was just five years old. In an attempt
to save his son, his father abandoned him in the forest and told him he
must never return home. Joe survived in the forest alone. Although he
becomes a literary success, he suffers from disabling depression and had
difficulty with emotional intimacy.

His wife, Isabel,
would be the first to attest to this. She is a foreign correspondent
who goes to the most troubled spots on the globe. Like her husband, she
has seen the worst in human nature. Even from the vantage point of an
adult, it has altered her view of life.

She was in
the middle of her life, she was nearly fifty years old and had witnessed
countless massacres and conflicts in the work that pressed her up close
to the suffering world...Yet even without witnessing firsthand the
terrors of Rwanda, she had gone too far into the unhappiness of the
world to start all over again.
(p. 31)

Their child,
Nina, is a prepubescent girl who tries to care for her father during
her mother's long absences from home. She loves him but cannot
understand the depths of his sadness. She resents her mother, who in a
sense, has abandoned her.

The other main characters in
the book are Isabel's friends, Laura and Mitchell. Mitchell's
compulsive spending has bankrupted this couple. His passion for guns
and shooting animals portends the tragedy to come.

Swimming Home
is a psychological thriller that grapples with many of life's big
questions. How does one maintain love in a long marriage? How can
parents protect the innocence of their children? How can optimism be
preserved in a world where evil is pervasive?  Deborah Levy explores
these themes through well-defined characters, a non-linear plot and an
ending that is as shocking as it is unexpected.

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